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The Origin of Utility

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  • De Fraja, Gianni

Abstract

This paper proposes an explanation for the universal human desire for increasing consumption. It holds that it was moulded in evolutionary times by a mechanism known to biologists as sexual selection, whereby a certain trait - observable consumption - is used by members of one sex to signal their unobservable characteristics valuable to members of the opposite sex. It then goes on to show that the standard economics problem of utility maximisation is formally equivalent to the standard biology problem of the maximisation of individual fitness, the ability to pass genes to future generations.

Suggested Citation

  • De Fraja, Gianni, 2006. "The Origin of Utility," CEPR Discussion Papers 5859, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5859
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    19. Mukesh Eswaran & Ashok Kotwal, 2004. "A theory of gender differences in parental altruism," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 37(4), pages 918-950, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. De Fraja, Gianni, 2009. "The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 51-69, October.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Darwin; natural selection; sexual selection; utility;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy

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